ARCHIVED: Legislative and Regulatory Update - October 1996

  • Bookmark and Share

October 1996

Mary Alice Baish
Assistant Washington Affairs Representative
Georgetown University Law Library
111 G Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001
202/662-9200 *FAX:202/662-9202

Congress has just returned from its August recess and has only a month to consider legislation before breaking in October for the election campaign season.


The NII Digital Copyright bills, S. 1284 and H.R. 2441, have both stalled in Congress and chances of passage this year appear slim. Hearings held in February and May brought out the complexities inherent in changing copyright law to reflect the new dynamics of the Internet while at the same time preserving the balance between authors and users. Despite this turn of events, the Administration is supporting a draft international agreement by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) that is identical to the original legislation proposed in the White Paper. Thus legislation on which Congress is unable to agree may well return as a treaty document next year. In a July 23, 1996 letter to the Chairman of WIPO, Rep. Rick Boucher (R-VA) stated that, "given the deep division of interest over the issues raised by the Digital Agenda in the United States, I believe that more time is needed both domestically and internationally to assess their effect and to formulate changes in copyright law that properly balance the needs of content owners, users and electronic service providers." The Digital Future Coalition (DFC) fully supports Boucher's statements and continues to resist this development. Bob has recently attended several important meetings with both Administration and WIPO officials. More information on this international turn of events is available on the DFC homepage ( As an aside, the DFC will celebrate its first year anniversary in October by holding a one-day conference here in Washington to assess its progress and to develop next year's plan of action. Having begun with a core membership of only a handful of organizations, including AALL, the DFC now consists of thirty-four member organizations that represent well over 2 million Americans.

Database Protection Bill Introduced

Rep. Carlos Moorehead (R-CA), Chairman of the Courts and Intellectual Property Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, recently introduced the Database Investment and Intellectual Property Antipiracy Act of 1996 (H.R. 3531). This bill defines "database" to include collections or compilations in any format, not just electronic. And while excluding databases "made by a government entity," the bill includes databases whose "contents have been obtained from a government entity." Database protection lasts for twenty-five years and is renewed each time the database undergoes any change of "commercial significance," thus creating the possibility of perpetual protection. The European Union passed similar legislation earlier this year. In addition, the Administration has submitted to WIPO a draft for an international treaty that is consistent with H.R. 3531 and would extend database protection here in the United States.

West/Thomson Merger

At the direction of the Executive Board, Bob sent a second letter to Craig Conrath, chief of the Merger Task Force at the Department of Justice, on July 29th. The letter commented on several aspects of the proposed settlement: the proposal to sell off individual titles rather than subsidiary companies (will these titles be able to survive?); the amount of the proposed license fee for use of star pagination in West's National Reporter System; and the requirement that licensees give up legal rights to challenge West's claim of copyright. The letter also expressed AALL's continued concern about the impact of the merger on competition for online legal services.

California SB 1507

Members of NOCALL and SCALL co-sponsored Senate Bill 1507, a bill introduced by Senator Nicholas Petris in February 1996, that pertains to the preservation and access of California public records. SB 1507 provides for the preservation of Senate and Assembly committee and floor bill files, as well as state agency rulemaking files. These materials, critical for the compilation of legislative histories, are not covered under the current California Public Records Act. They are often either scattered about or destroyed, a situation probably not uncommon to other state legislative and regulatory materials. SB 1507 unanimously passed the Assembly on August 29th, was concurred by the Senate the following day, and will hopefully be signed into law by Governor Pete Wilson in the near future. NOCALL and SCALL members deserve great credit for drafting the bill, testifying at several hearings, and lobbying extensively for its passage. The Washington Affairs Office, pleased to be able to lend the association's national support to these efforts, in August sent a supportive letter to the appropriate California officials.

TIIAP Funding

AALL joined a broad coalition of approximately fifty organizations who signed on to a letter drafted by People for the American Way that was sent to all Senate members in support of funding for TIIAP grants. This is a grant program administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) that awards funding, to be matched by private contributions, for schools, libraries and local government entities to develop advanced telecommunications technologies. The preservation of this grant program is an annual struggle. This year, the Senate Appropriations Committee provided just $4 million for FY 1997 and Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-NE) will shortly introduce an amendment on the Senate floor to raise it to $21.5 million, the amount passed by the House.

Communications Decency Act (CDA)

The Department of Justice has been granted a month's extension by the Supreme Court and now has until the end of September to file the jurisdictional statement in ACLU v. Reno. It is expected that the appeal may be consolidated with another recent court decision, Shea v. Reno, in which three federal judges in Manhattan also unanimously ruled that the CDA is unconstitutional. AALL participated in the ACLU case as a member of the Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition (CIEC). Visit the CIEC home page at to keep abreast of the latest news.

(AALL Letters mentioned above are available on AALLWASH, the new Washington Affairs Office home page)

1996, American Association of Law Libraries